In April 1997, with support from the World Bank and IUCN-The World Conservation Union, representatives of diverse interests met in Gland, Switzerland, in light of a recent World Bank report, to discuss highly controversial issues associated with large dams. The workshop brought together 39 participants from governments, the private sector, international financial institutions, civil society organisations and affected people. One proposal that came out of the meeting was for all parties to work together in establishing the World Commission on Dams (WCD) with a mandate to:
- review the development effectiveness of large dams and assess alternatives for water resources and energy development; and
- develop internationally acceptable criteria, guidelines and standards, where appropriate, for the planning, design, appraisal, construction, operation, monitoring and decommissioning of dams
The WCD began its work in May 1998 under the Chairmanship of Prof. Kader Asmal, who was then South Africa's Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry; its members were chosen to reflect regional diversity, expertise and stakeholder perspectives.
- The WCD was independent, with each member serving in an individual capacity and none representing an institution or a country
- The Commission conducted the first comprehensive global and independent review of the performance and impacts of large dams, and the options available for water and energy development
- Public consultation and access to the Commission was a key component of the process. The WCD Forum, with 68 members representing a cross-section of interests, views and institutions, was consulted throughout the Commission's work
- The WCD pioneered a new funding model involving all interest groups in the debate: 53 public, private and civil society organisations pledged funds to the WCD process
The final report of the World Commission on Dams, Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making, was released in November 2000.